Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Disappearing Gun - Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula, New Zealand

The Disappearing gun is a familiar and intriguing weapon mounted in major fortifications in Australia and New Zealand. It was the outcome of mid-19th century technological advances in weaponry such as the increasing size and power of marine and coastal artillery, the development of armoured steam ships negating the defensive power of tides and wind and the development of operational research analysing the impact of Civil War bombardments of coastal forts and the results of the famous battle of Alexandria (in 1882). All this work lead to the conclusion that coastal artillery needed to be better protected if only to preserve the crews serving the weapons. This conclusion resulted in a variety of new fortification and gun mounting designs which were developed from the mid-1860s.

A disappearing gun is one where a rifled, breach loading, gun is mounted on a hydro-pneumatic carriage in which the recoil is checked by cylinders containing liquid and air, the air when compressed furnishing the power for restoring the gun to the firing position. The gun was swung above the parapet of the mounting and pointed and elevated from below and then fired. The recoil swung the gun below the parapet where it was reloaded. A metal (armoured) shield covered most of the gun pit in British designs. The crew was protected below the parapet and the gun itself would have been a difficult target to hit.

The British design used throughout the colonies was by Armstrong a company with expertise in hydraulics and of course pioneering the breach loading design. The “Disappearing Gun” was sold to the colonies in the mid 1880’s as well as to China and Thailand. A similar design the Buffington–Crozier Disappearing Carriage was adopted by the United States for coastal artillery from the mid-1890s and some saw service against the Japanese.

Gun Front

The gun in its loading position. The gun can be trained using the wheel visible in the photo. The band around the mounting gives the angle.

I was involved in looking at the fortifications in Victoria in the 1980s when hydro-pneumatic mountings were discovered and there were plans for reconstructing South Channel fort. I had also seen batteries in Sydney and Queensland where disappearing guns were mounted. I knew of the batteries at North Head at Auckland which I had briefly visited and that there were other batteries at Canterbury. Curiously each State claims their battery was the first or prototype mounting!

During the 2011 Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology Conference the pre-conference tour visited the Otago Peninsula. At Taiaroa Head, which dominates the narrow entrance to Otago Harbour, extensive fortifications were constructed following the usual fears of a Russian invasion. In 1885 the New Zealand Government bought 10 8” and 13 6” disappearing guns from Armstrong’s Elswick 0rdnance Company. The gun at Taiaroa Head is a 6” with a range of about 6600 ft. The propellant used was initially gunpowder and the shells were the typical range of shells using gunpowder. Later Cordite MD was used as a propellant and presumably more advanced shell were used.

Although obsolete by 1900 in New Zealand they were manned during World War 1 but abandoned about 1925. However unlike other guns the gun was not cut up for scrap metal and was recommissioned during World War 2, and later completely restored by the Otago Antique Arms Association. The mounting site is amid an Albatross colony.

gun shield  Detail of the shield protecting the crew from shrapnel.

Gun Breach 2

The breach in its closed position.

Breach of gun

The breach open showing the screw mechanism.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Getting people involved in the hobby

What is the purpose of a model train show? To me it seems to serve two main purposes; firstly, to show off our hobby and secondly to encourage and inspire people to joint in. While there is allot of dispute about how to do this (and while I have some views myself about presentation of layouts) I wanted to post about one person who seems to be getting people involved in a practical and fun way. I am referring to Geoff Nott.

Geoff and his friends runs hands on scenery making demonstrations mainly for kids at many of the Sydney model railway shows

Hands On Scenery Demonstration - Geoff Nott and friends. Geoff in action

Geoff at work at the Castle Hill show (note the enthusiastic kids and parents).

Hands On Scenery Demonstration - Geoff Nott and friends. Examples of his techniques.

For the more restrained there are also displays of how to convert odds and ends into wonderful scenery.

I think this approach is really where model railway shows should be going namely; involving the general public in the hands on aspects of the hobby to get them to feel that model railwaying is more than a few greying over 50’s blokes chatting with their mates.

It helps that Geoff is a friendly bloke who seems always ready to pass on his considerable skills in modelling.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A long time ago at Lake Condah

LCD 300dpi Edited

This is the crew at the excavations of the Lake Condah Dormitory run by the Victoria Archaeological Survey in December 1986. The photo was taken on the 20th December and I found it today in some files.

I am going to have a go at some names but not the spelling!!


David Clark, Chris West, Noel Pearce, ??, Robin Stocks, Albert Clarke?? Arthur Cole, Peter Fergusson, Jenny ??, John Evans, Andrea Warren, David Rhodes, Gary Nelson ,Mike McIntyre, Katrina Geering, Cathy McIntyre


Jill Gallaher, Stewart Simmons, Rebecca Barry, IMS, Fiona Weaver, Min Ho, Brenna McIntyre, Barry Golding.

I am open to corrections, additional information and comments.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The mysterious 8118

A favourite place of mine to spot trains is the Carrington coal loader at East Mayfield.this area is adjacent to the old BHP Steelworks – the main boundary road is Selwyn Street. Selwyn Street crosses a railway line – leading, I think, to the One Steel wire works.

On this siding on 27th January 2009 was 8118

Newcastle Jan09 8118

Several years later I returned to the same area – in fact last week was the same locomotive in the same place!

East Mayfield 8118

It was still there on the 7th July two days later.

Newcastle01 8118

The question I had was – had it ever moved! But a check of Nearmap and Google Earth showed it was not there several times between now and 2009 and it seems my observations were merely coincidence. However it is interesting to spot the changes over the last few years.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bob Gould and his bookshop

I never really met Bob Gould, although I knew who he was by sight and he me served many time at the legendary Book Arcade at Newtown. I am sad to hear that he died yesterday after a fall in his shop.

I discovered the Gould’s on one of my visits to Sydney probably while walking from an ASHA Conference venue to a restaurant in Newtown. When I moved to Sydney to start my PhD it was a place that had so many difficult to find books on Australian history. I remember evening visits simply browsing for something interesting to read (along with visits to the shop in Parramatta Road Leichhardt which was a bit easier to navigate).

It was dusty, disorganised and finding a specific book in the shop remained a big challenge. I decided that the most successful finding technique was to stand and visualise the book in your third eye and start from there. This was not 100% reliable and negotiating the shelves and numerous stacks of books was not for the faint hearted or the large sized.

How much more interesting though, was the experience of shopping than going to Angus and Robertson, Dymocks or the hopeless Boarders with their uniform blandness. It was an adventure; you might even find a book you never thought you’d want to buy. There was the potential of meeting cats (there always seemed to be an opening to allow a cat in or out). There was a whole wall of classic Marxist works – I always meant to get something of Althusser’s (was it “For Marx” or “Essays on Ideology”, both were there) but managed to complete me thesis without it.

Although in recent years the shop was tidied up and Gould’s appeared on the internet the shop was still impossibly cluttered. Jane commented on this when we last were there “worse than your office, Iain” I think was the nub of it and sadly it was full of trip hazards.

I hope Gould’s continues to provide a diverse and different book shopping experience.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The First Time

BGM GY instructions

Do you remember the first time, I certainly do. For years I had been a aircraft, ship and military modeller but there were certain moral issues related to the construction of military models particularly those from the Nazi and Soviet sides (they had all the good tanks!) so my then girlfirend (now a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians) suggested a trip to the Model Railway exhibition at Camberwell and as a consequence a copy of the Australian Model Railway Magazine was bought and that lead to a decision to model Victorian Railways and inevitably to my first train model.

My first was a Broad Gauge Models GY Wagon in HO scale which I bought from Trainworld at Brighton. I don't know the name of the bloke who sold it to me back in 1982 but he also sold me the brake gear and couplers  the basic model was $6.85. He was really helpful and encouraging.

I was searching through my stuff last weekend and found what may well be the instructions for the first one so I scanned them as a curiosity.

In fact the GY was the first rolling stock model for BGM. They started in 1980 and produced a few bits and bobs before moving into importing brass models from Samhongsa (the first one was a K class) and developing a range of plastic wagon kits of which the GY was the first. Both the K and the GY were announced in late 1981.

BGM transformed the VR modelling scene by producing (virtually) RTR HO scale models of rolling stock which meant anyone could easily model the VR. 

In April 2011 David Foulkes of Steam Era Models released a retooled GY – a much improved kit based on the original BGM moulds which i think he did back in 1981-82.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Black Clouds

The coming thing in computing was supposed to be “cloud computing” your precious files were to be stored off site (i.e. not on your computer) and your software was to be provided off site as well by the software manufacturers. The model sees computer service as being like a utility. Google in many devious ways is pushing this model.

Being a Luddite I have always been suspicious. Security is an obvious issue, so is cost (if the computer geeks are saying it is good for all of us then no doubt more money will flow to Google or Microsoft).

Examples of cloud computing are the various photo programs like Pisca, Flickr and, of course, Fotpic where photos could be stored and shared. Like many of these there was a free account option and then more deluxe accounts required payment.

Everything was fine until a black cloud emerged around the 8th March 2011 and it went off line. By the 31st of March it was established that the site’s owner Snappy Designs Ltd had gone bankrupt. It is not clear how the owners of the images can recover their images if indeed they can. The phrase “the lawyers’ picnic’ comes to mind.

I only post copies of my images on Flickr and keep originals at home. I feel really sorry for those who have lost their original images especially as they thought they were safe on Fotopic.

The whole saga should result in a revision of the cloud computing model – what does happen if the site goes down; how do you get your stuff back; indeed do you have a legal right to get it back? Which law applies?

I’ll take my risks with my home set up.

2008 11 21 Al and Maud 006 


Monday, March 7, 2011

Forestville 2011

Someone once said that the Menzies era in Australia was not 15 years of Menzies but the same years over and over again – so it is with the Forestville Exhibition.

It must be difficult to organise an exhibition and to get layouts and their owners to attend but Forestville seems to have the same layouts over and over again creating a sense of dullness. Not Dungog again! It is a perfectly good layout and modelling standards are high but it is a perennial and nothing seems to have changed. The only way to freshen it up would be to do something radical like run a time table or run it with operators in front of it with humanity.

But the long trek from Concord to Forestville was not wasted. Some interesting works were found in the second hand stall along with a Athearn CF-7 that was $30 less than the one on the Model Rail Craftsman stall.

Pirrama Park details for Jane's construction finishes ProjectHere it is stretching out on the rolling road.

One layout that was worth a second look was Bavaria based on German practice and extremely simple, a loop through scenery with a siding at the station. Unlike most German models it lacks “humour” (no fire houses on fire), “naughty scenes” or flashing lights on emergency services vehicles.

Pirrama Park details for Jane's construction finishes Project Note how the model is displayed in its own world, the layout height, presentation of the back scene and the close lighting creates a bright and attractive model.

Pirrama Park details for Jane's construction finishes ProjectThe use of standard detailing items such as Noch products is excellent in my view and not overdone as often is the case. The downside is the tail chasing nature of the train operations which tend to be a bit boring.

Nevertheless the model has an apparent simplicity and is full of light which makes it very attractive.

While at Forestville I witnessed a tail end smash brought on by operator error and the mighty power of DCC. The layout will be nameless to protect the guilty.

Pirrama Park details for Jane's construction finishes ProjectThe sound of 4205 hitting the guards van was not on any sound card!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Another Magazine

I was down at Concord buying our afternoon coffee at Del Mondo. There was a bit of a crowd and not enough staff so I wandered next door to the Newsagent and returned with another modelling magazine – Airfix Model World.

Why do I need another magazine? I have hundreds of them in the house and in the shed. Well it goes back to my slightly misspent youth.

Airfix Magazine “for plastic modellers”


One day sometime in the late 1960’s I started buying the Airfix Magazine from the East Ivanhoe Newagency. Was it owned by Mr Giles? Later it was Fred and Peter Smythe, who gave me my first and often I think my best job – as a paperboy.

I had a standing order from 1969 and above is an image of one of the remaining early copies I have with the cover intact.

Airfix Magazine was produced from June 1960 to October 1993, was a brilliant marketing tool. It treated the topic of plastic modelling seriously and provided a mixture of news, historical information and articles on conversions and builds. Looking at the April 1969 issue I saw that the series on the Panzer 3 by Peter Chamberlin was concluding, while the “Bombing Colours” series by Bruce Robinson and Michael J.F. Bowyer. this would run for many years and was also a history of the RAF’s Bomber Command as well as the paint schemes of its aircraft. There are articles on model railways, model ships as well as aircraft and war gaming with “Ancient Britons”.  

I spend a considerable time in the alcove that was my bedroom reading the Airfix Magazine and assembling large plastic armies. I developed my annoying habit of referring to sources in arguments with my friends regarding aspects of WWII, aircraft and tanks.

As the years progressed the magazine changed most notably it metricated to A4.


The articles became a bit less interesting and the Airfix advertising was decidedly corny (e.g. The Army, The Navy and the Airforce gave it a Whirl  advertisement for  the Airfix Westland Whirlwind H.A.S. Mk 22). There were of course more competitors to Airfix in particular the Japanese who though more expensive in the UK were higher quality and more diverse subjects.

In any case by 1979 I was at Uni chasing after various bands and had even met girls who were not my sister’s school friends! I was surprised to learn that the Airfix Magazine survived till 1993.

Now in 2010 Airfix has been revived and now a new Airfix Magazine has retuned to join the groaning magazine shelves.


I probably wont be a regular buyer  but I bought this issue out of nostalgia.